Podcast #143 — How Bad is Business Travel For Your Health; Make Layovers Fun

Duck squats are supposed to keep you healthy

No long-distance travel this month. Instead, I”m getting back into regional jets, and waiting out a long delay in Cincinnati has me wondering about American Eagle’s flight scheduling algorithm. My flights into CVG cause me to think about the impact of losing hub status. CVG looks overbuilt, but MEM is spending money to shrink itself. A Harvard Business Review article about how frequent business travel leads to poor health choices emphasizes the need for “mindfulness” on the road. The Midway Layover Taproom video gets me thinking about the time needed for a fun layover tour. And I give a listener my Chicago restaurant and taproom recommendations. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #143:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you a spiffed up TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL. The production bay has been somewhat reassembled — less one piece of furniture in the name of decluttering — with the walls now a real estate agent-approved shade of “greige” and the floors redone from cherry to a bit more of a walnut; bowing to the presumed tastes of the millennial buyer. It’s not bad, just different. Definitely lighter though.
  • No spur-of-the-moment international trips in July; mostly just running around the Midwest, but re-vectoring from Wisconsin to Cincinnati; a bit too far to drive, so I’m losing the freedom to leave when I want and back to stooping through regional jet doorways.
  • And back to having my schedule jacked up by weather events thousands of miles away from me. As we’ve talked about before, the regional jet operators, affiliates that don’t have spare jets available to step in and wipe out delays a plane may encounter along their daily bunny hop schedule. Last week, my AA flight from CVG to ORD was a textbook example of this. At 12:30, on the way back from lunch, I got my first delay notice — for a 6pm flight. It was just 20 minutes, so I didn’t think much of it. It was a nice day in both Cincinnati and Chicago, so I just chalked it up to standard ORD traffic. But then the delay started to stretch — to 30 minutes, to 40 minutes, to an hour. I fired up FlightAware and used the “Where’s My Plane Now?” functionality to try and figure out what was going on. The nice thing about the FlightAware screen is it shows you the flight path and the current weather. My plane was traveling from Norfolk, VA to Miami, and then up to Cincinnati — and I could see heavy storms all along the Southeast coast. The plane was late leaving Norfolk, and then was having to vector down the Florida Gulf Coast to avoid the storms over the Atlantic Coast. This wasn’t looking good.
  • FlightAware also shows a 10-day history for a flight’s departure/arrival times. This American flight had only arrived on-time once; had also canceled once, and arrived late the other 8 times. With a bit of time to kill, I fired up Excel and calculated that this flight averaged an hour and 20 minute delay — counting the one on-time flight, but not counting the cancellation (figuring out how to average in infinity was a bit more work that I was willing to tackle). This wasn’t really a one-off weather delay; it was a bad flight route. So as I’m wont to do, I hit American on Twitter — “this flt has been delayed/cancelled 8 of the past 9 days. Kinda think AA needs to rethink the scheduling for this one”. I looked at the history of the United flight also leaving at 6pm — one late flight in the past 10 days. It flies back and forth between ORD and CVG. Maybe not a great plan for the winter, but better than flying through the humid South in July and August. I’m switching. Besides, the beer selection in CVG won’t keep me occupied through too many more hour-long delays.
  • Bridge Music — Miss America by Beyond 7

Following Up

  • Even in the midst of studio refurb, I managed to push out the long-promised Chicago Midway Layover Southside Taproom Tour video. These videos always take longer than I think, but it’s fun and I like the end result. One of the things I’ve liked about the craft beer explosion — in addition, of course, to good beer — is that searching out new microbreweries has taken me to parts of cities I never would’ve visited otherwise — walking into a basement in Portland, Oregon wondering how in the hell they got these huge steel tanks down here; or coming out of the Paris Metro in the middle of a North African neighborhood. I hope this Midway video has some of that same feel — skipping the parts of Chicago that make the tour guides or TV shows — the baseball themepark of Wrigleyville, the lakefront, hipster enclaves of Wicker Park and Logan Square — guiding folks to pass through Douglas Park, Pilsen, Bridgeport, and the Back of the Yards. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out. You can watch it on the TravelCommons Facebook page, or go to the TravelCommons web site and you can click through to it on YouTube. Robert Fenerty left a comment on YouTube — “Might be an excellent way to help get my A List status renewed this year!” Which, I think, is an excellent idea…
  • Rob Cheshire commented on the web site, talking about the Southside breweries I featured on the video —
    • Thanks Mark! I will definitely build a visit to Marz and Lo-rez into my schedule for my August trip to Chicago. I am undecided about Whiner, which might be a bit too “European” in terms of beer styles for my tastes.I am a bit conflicted about Lagunitas, being part of the evil-Heineken Empire! I have no doubt that they have some great beers, and that the tasting room is a very cool spot.
  • Rob and I have trading thoughts on Chicago brewery in comments to TravelCommons web site posts and Untappd check ins for a couple of months leading up to his trip here. Little does he know that I’m going to hit him up the other way for suggestions for my quick visit to Copenhagen in September. Rob has started his own blog — The Great Taproom Adventure — with his notes on the taprooms he visits.
  • Keith Love — “long-time listener, first-time caller” as he describes himself — sent me a note. He and his son are hitting Chicago early this month — maybe for Lollapalooza? You’d be surprised how many older folks go hard on that 4-day music festival. Keith asked me for some restaurant and taproom recommendations, which got me thinking that I should do a Chicago episode, but in lieu of that, here’s the list I built for Keith in case you’re passing through Chicago soon –
    • Restaurant suggestions with good food/beer selections
      • The Publican (Fulton Market)
      • Cruz Blanca (Randolph St)
      • The Fountainhead (North Center)
      • Hopleaf (Andersonville)
      • Purple Pig (Michigan Ave)
      • Eataly (River North; beer bar on the top floor)
      • Fat Rice (Logan Square — a bit of a cheat; OK beer, but food you won’t find anywhere else)
      • Wiener Circle (Lakeview — even more of a cheat; no beer but a great char-Polish)
    • Favorite Chicago taprooms — this is more Northside focused since Keith said he was staying in River North
      • Goose Island Taproom (on Fulton St, not the brewpub)
      • Half Acre (on either Lincoln or the new, larger one further north on Balmoral)
      • Revolution Brewery Taproom (on Kedzie, not the brewpub on Milwaukee)
      • Ravenswood taproom crawl — 4 taprooms on Ravenswood between Foster and Irving Park Rd
      • DryHop (Lakeview – another cheat; more of a brewpub, but a fav of mine)
  • Keith also asked if I have a favorite airport app to, as he said, “actually guide you through airports and their amenities/services.” I had to admit that I’m a bit more old-school and use the maps that are posted around, though I will use Untappd to find the airport bars that have the best beer selection, which is how I killed a bit of that CVG delay I talked about earlier. If anybody uses an airport app, please let me know and I’ll talk about it on the next episode.
  • The stint in Cincinnati forces me to fly out of ORD first thing Monday morning, the worst part of the road warrior rush hour. I normally avoid Monday morning flights like the plague, but my schedule these past weeks has forced me into it. That first Monday, I gave myself an extra 30 minutes, figuring life is too short to hyperventilate in a TSA line. But even then, the line tailing out of the Terminal 3 PreCheck took my breath away — half the way down the terminal and I couldn’t catch up to the end of it; it grew faster than I could walk. I finally was able to get in — I may have cut someone off, I dunno, the end of the line was a bit nebulous, lot of people muddling around, eventually forming a coherent line. Kinda like the travelers version of post-Big Bang dust clouds eventually forming galaxies. Anyhow, I get into line and start walking back toward the PreCheck station, at a brisk pace, and I didn’t really stop until I stood at the little swinging gate, waiting for the next available agent to check my license. It was 5-7 minutes tops. It’s amazing how many passengers they can process with 9 agents checking ID and every screening machine running. And with a line that’s 90% experienced travelers. It was just this side of a precision drill squad. I was impressed.
  • I haven’t spent much time in Cincinnati airport before. It’s a very nice airport, but feels a bit “overbuilt”, especially with Delta “de-hubbing” it after it merged with Northwest.There’s two terminals with a train running between them and to the main building. The train is fine, as airplane trains go — no better or worse than Denver’s or Atlanta’s — but it seems a lot shorter. Indeed, the walk between terminals is maybe 3 minutes. The train seems a bit superfluous, or that the Cincinnati airport is trying to punch above its weight. Though feeling a bit overbuilt, it’s doesn’t have the ghost town feeling that the Memphis airport had the last time I was there. There were concourses there where I didn’t see a soul. It too was a casualty of the Delta-Northwest merger, a Northwest hub that was shut down in favor of Delta’s superhub in Atlanta. Memphis has lost ⅔’s of its passenger traffic and is now spending millions to downsize, to shutdown and mothball those empty concourses. There’s a good NY Times story about this. I tweeted out a link while I was writing this, but will also put a link in the show notes.
  • And if you have any travel questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can send in an audio comment; a Twitter message to @mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our new Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — On Condition of Anonymity by the West Exit

How Bad is Business Travel For Your Health?

  • I stumbled across an article in Harvard Business Review — Just How Bad is Business Travel for Your Health? Here’s the Data — by Dr Andrew Rundle, a pr ofessor of epidemiology at Columbia University. His bio says “his research focuses on the risks for, and consequences of, sedentary lifestyles and obesity.”
    The article summarizes his recent research which boils down to

    • Employees who spent 14 or more nights away from home per month had significantly higher body mass index scores and were significantly more likely to report clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence; no physical activity or exercise; smoking; and trouble sleeping. The odds of being obese were 92% higher for those who traveled 21 or more nights per month
  • Yup, so tell me something I don’t know. It takes work, or “mindfulness” to be on-trend, to eat right, exercise, and go to bed at a reasonable time when the guardrails of your normal routine disappear. Rundle’s population is people who travel every week. In the US, many consultancies shoot for a “3-4-5” travel schedule for their full-time project staff — 3 nights, 4 days on the road — leaving Monday morning, returning Thursday night — with the 5th day in the office or working from home. Depending on the number of weeks in the month, that’s 12 -15 nights/month.
  • When I went into consulting and full-time travel, the change was immediate — working late and then project team dinners rolled over my evening workout routine, eating out every meal blew up my regular diet, and waking up at 4am on Monday morning to catch the 6am flight to LaGuardia, so I could be at my midtown Manhattan client by 10am screwed up my sleep cycle for the next couple of days. I could see the effects on the guys in my “class” — the guys who joined the firm the same fall that I did — putting on weight, walking a bit slower through the airport, drinking a bit more at dinner, maybe missing an early morning meeting or call after staying out a bit too late.
  • I made some adjustments — moved to morning workouts, became more “mindful” about what I was eating — ordering fish and vegetarian meals where I could (though there aren’t always great options for non-Big 3 proteins (non-beef, chicken, or pork) in places like Dover, OH, Ephrata, PA, or Huntsville, AL). Maybe this slowed the inevitable, but 10 years on, we were on a family vacation with my folks, a Caribbean cruise. One of the stops along the Yucatan, the Mayan Riviera as they were starting to call it, I walk out of the water to our chairs, my dad looks up at me and says “You’ve put a bit of weight on, haven’t you?” I would’ve blown him off, except that I knew it was true. My waist size was 2 inches bigger and I was carrying 20 lbs more than when I started. I was heading in the same direction as my colleagues, even though it was at a slower pace.
  • I was able to reverse the trend, and I think one of the key reasons was by then, I was senior enough to have more control over my schedule. I was managing the projects rather than being managed. So I could relieve the expectations of nightly team dinners — at least one night a week, everyone was on their own, and no pressure if you bagged out other nights. I’d turn in early on Monday nights when most of us had gotten up early to fly out. We’d pick hotels with good workout rooms and where we could walk to the client and to restaurants rather than drive. Where I could, I’d negotiate remote work weeks with the client — save them expense money, and give our team a break from the airport. It took work to break out of the usual, the default behaviors — that “mindfulness” thing again.
  • Thinking back on it, I guess I’m surprised that the firms I was with expected me to figure this out on my own. There were always travel policies on spending limits, and using the corporate travel agency, and what receipts were needed, and when you could fly business class, but no real guidance/support on how to lead a somewhat healthy life on the road. Maybe because the people writing those policies weren’t traveling — the accountants and HR managers were paying for their own meals and going home every night, maybe a bit jealous thinking we were living it up every night eating steak dinners and drinking bottles of wine. Which some of us were, because we weren’t mindful enough to think about another way.
  • Bridge Music — Subtle Vice by Solace

Make Layovers Fun

  • One of the most sacred frequent traveler rules is Fly Direct. Be it winter with snow or summer with thunderstorms, adding that intermediate stop adds one more point of failure, one more opportunity for the airlines to screw up. But, with a bit of planning and an “adventuring” frame of mind, you can actually manufacture something good — a mini-tour — out of a connection. That has been the inspiration behind two TravelCommons videos — the new MDW Layover Taproom Tour and the ORD Layover Excursion that I did almost 6 years ago — and that is still getting regular hits on YouTube.
  • To do it right, though, does take a bit of planning… and time. You have to factor in all the delay points — getting off the plane, stashing your luggage if you carried on, getting to and from where you’re going, and then getting back through security when you return. For most airports, I think it’s tough to do a good layover tour in less than 4 hours — this is supposed to be a fun daybreak, not another travel stressor.
  • United Airlines used to have a series in their Hemispheres magazine called One City, Five Hours that would outline a 5-hour layover tour in a different city — Reno, Albuquerque, Copenhagen, …. One of the early TravelCommons videos is me following their Frankfurt tour on a 6-hr layover between Mumbai and Chicago. Those article are tough to find, even with Google, but managed to dredge up the Copenhagen one from the Hemispheres archives and am going to give it a go at the end of this month.
  • In Episode 130 last year, I talked about how my son and I passed up a 90-minute connection in Vienna for an 8-hr one and then spent a Saturday eating schnitzel and drinking beer in the old section of town with a buddy of mine who came down from Poland.
  • And I think that 5-8 hour span is about right. There are some exceptions — the quick shopping jaunt from MSP to Mall of the Americas — but even if you’re hitting the nearby Blue Lagoon on your Wow Air layover in Reykjavik, I’d still allow 4 hours, especially given the Wow check-in lines I stood in the last time I took flew them.
    Jim McDonough felt that squeeze a few months ago. Commenting on the MDW Layover Facebook posting, Jim said
  • We had a four hour layover at O’Hare back in May on our way to Ireland. American did a schedule change that made a planned two hour layover into four. But we did not leave the airport. Somehow on international it didn’t make sense. Had some bad ‘free’ beer at the Admiral’s Club.
  • Yes, that would’ve been snug. Jim and his wife maybe could’ve swung down to Logan Square or Wicker Park — both stops on the ORD subway line — for a bite and a bit of a walkaround, but they would’ve needed to have a solid plan for that, tough with that last-minute schedule change.
  • But even unplanned layovers can work out. Several years ago, my parents flew from Denver to Paducah, KY to visit my aunt and grandmother. As you can imagine, no direct flights so they connected through ORD. And, as you might guess, on the way home, their commuter flight was late out of Paducah and they missed a tight connection. My dad called me from the airport. It was New Year’s Eve night and we were having 3 or 4 couples over. “Get your luggage and book the flight out tomorrow,” I told him, “you can help me cook dinner.” I picked them up, brought them home, threw an apron at my dad, opened an early bottle of champagne, and we had a great time.

Closing

  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #143
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
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  • Bridge music is from Magnatune
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1 Comments.

  1. Lots of content as well as comments on this episode. Chicago Midway Layover Southside Taproom Tour video I viewed but somehow forgot to hit send on my comment. Thoroughly enjoyed the tour, when it comes to travel and Midway, all I can think about is delays.
    Chicago, I recently sent all the members of my tribe there sans, myself (Someone had to watch the dog, or vice-versa). When my wife travels she always checks baggage….. we’ve only been married 8 years. Upon arrival, I grabbed her bag off the belt and it was unusually heavy. The reason it contained 2 six-packs of Revolution Brewery beer, God bless this woman.
    Travel and health, this one hit home. Somehow I’ve managed to “keep it tight”… somewhat. I hired someone about three years ago, and while he doesn’t drink he managed to partake in every meal that he was invited to, (Side note, I advised him to keep it under control). So much so that the rest of us had an over/under on how fast he could gain 30lbs (Yes, we’re that cruel & shallow). After two broken pants buttons before he managed to get control.
    Sorry for the long comment, but keep up the great work!